Stalin Edges Out Putin in Russian Poll on Greatest Figure in World History

Coming to terms with one's own delusions is a difficult task.


As a student at a British university in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was struck by the nu-mber of Marxist students and professors I encountered. (That British universities remain a hotbed of leftism was confirmed recently, when large numbers of British university students turned out to vote for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party in the recent general election.) As someone born behind the Iron Curtain, I found the intellectuals' attachment to Marxism puzzling and sometimes, like when I was told that the people of Eastern Europe "betrayed" Marx's ideas, objectionable.

Later I realized that ideology, like religion, can form a core of personal identity and changing that identity is almost impossible. That appeared to be especially true of my university professors, who spent most of their professional lives promoting Marxism. Few people, I suspect, have the time and the energy to evaluate their core beliefs in the face of new evidence, and the courage to embrace ideas they spent their entire lives despising.

In any case, coming to terms with one's own delusions is a difficult task that is not limited to individuals alone. Entire nations can remain beholden to some very strange ideas. In a recent poll conducted by the Levada Centre in Moscow, "Russians were asked to pick the ten greatest individuals of all time." They "have picked Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as the greatest figure in history… beating President Vladimir Putin into joint second alongside poet Alexander Pushkin."

A similar poll conducted in 2016, found "a gradual improvement in perceptions of Stalin." In that survey, "40 percent of Russians thought the Stalin era brought 'more good than bad,' up from 27 percent in 2012." In January 2015, The New York Times reported, "a majority of Russians (52 percent) said Stalin 'probably' or 'definitely' played a positive role in the [history of the] country." Depending on how you count it, Stalin might have been responsible for as many as 15 million deaths. And, he was not even Russian!

After the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russians never undertook the kind soul-searching that the Germans undertook after the fall of the Third Reich—a task that was made all the more difficult by positive comments about Stalin made by the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, closure of the Soviet archives and state control of the media.

I think that coming to terms with the past in Russia is even more difficult than elsewhere. Generations of Russians have toiled to build communism. Hundreds of millions of people have lived and died fulfilling idiotic production quotas and repeating equally idiotic mantras about a better tomorrow that never came. And to what avail? By the time when it collapsed, the Soviet Union was worse than a failure. It was a joke.

I think that it is this sense of national humiliation that is at the root of the Stalin nostalgia. The Russians may have been poor and miserable, but at least, back during the Cold War, the world respected and feared them. To reject Stalin and the Soviet Union is tantamount to recognizing that Russia's economic backwardness and millions of needlessly extinguished lives cannot be blamed on others. It amounts to no less than taking ownership of Russia's own mistakes and humiliations. That takes strength, courage and introspection that few people—be they Russians or not—possess.

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  1. “Later I realized that ideology, like religion, can form a core of personal identity and changing that identity is almost impossible.”

    That’s a depressing thought. (and I say that as a proud libertarian)

    1. Just stop calling yourself a libertarian and start calling yourself an individualist. Libertarians tend to fall into groupthink a little too much these days. It is a little bit harder to clamor for “Individualists unite!” or to accuse someone of not being a real individualist.

      1. Then again, with your username, you are kinda stuck 🙂

      2. Yes, the Libertarian Groupthink is especially strong on:

        gay wedding cakes and related cases of freedom of association
        immigration, open borders, and travel bans
        universal basic income

        just to name a few.

        or not.

      3. On a side note, did you know that the motto of the Polish Worker’s Union is “Every man for himself!”?

  2. I don’t know that one’s ideology, like one’s identity, is so difficult to alter. It should be more like leaving a toxic relationship. If it clearly isn’t working and brings out the worst in you, it’s time to kick your ideology to the curb.

    I speak from experience. As a teen, I was very left-wing. After college, I became right-wing. And about 15 years ago, I developed a severe allergy to statism of any flavor and became no-wing (or knowing).

    1. It can also change more suddenly. One relative’s bad encounter with Johnny Law or someone running afoul of a bundle of laws and regs for doing something you presumed was legal can change a political moderate to a libertarian overnight.

  3. Few people, I suspect, have the time and the energy to evaluate their core beliefs in the face of new evidence, and the courage to embrace ideas they spent their entire lives despising.

    Someday, Tupy, you’ll find the wherewithal to finally drop your dogma and see that Utopia can only come through the collective.

    There’s a reason the Russkies allowed themselves to be led into squalor by the Bolsheviks. Inferiority complex. And the farther – further? – no, farther you get from the days of the USSR, the more you’ll see the generation who didn’t live through it (or lived through it well) waxing nostalgic for the days when they seemed like a super power.

    1. A superpower that was being completely held up by the West, whether by astoundingly stupid diplomatic concessions to Western technology transfers for free.

  4. This is part of why Russia will likely always be a giant dump and its best and brightest will always flee westward. If current economic trend are anything to go by it’s going to continue to be the Detroit of Europe for the foreseeable future.

    What’s sad is this revanchist nationalism is probably only going to get much worse as one third world country after another passes them up.

  5. Russia has relied on a “strong man” for centuries, even when they have repeatedly failed; why change now? And of course there is that nostalgia for the good old days of the USSR, which grows ever more appealing the more people forget or just never knew what it was like to live under it.

  6. ” never undertook the kind soul-searching that the Germans undertook”

    Given what this kind of soul searching aka reeducation has done to the German psyche one can only hope the Russians continue venerating Stalin.

    1. It turned Germany into the flagellants of Europe, or Reek’s of the West for things they didn’t do, or another nation did but far worse than Hitler’s Reich.

  7. More proof that the Russian people have a severe case of Stockholm syndrome. Lenin killed more Russians that probably anyone else in history, but hey he was a great guy right?

    What’s more shocking is that Putin came anywhere near close considering his body count is several orders of magnitude less than Lenin.

    1. Not Lenin, Stalin.

      Lenin did, however, sign more death warrants in six months than the Tsar had in the last six years.

      1. Ah, yes, had a derp moment.

        Lenin was the good one, wasn’t he. Not that it’s much of a contest.

        1. It’s still flabbergasting that Stalin would win out over Putin. I mean, sure, Putin is kind of an evil bastard who used to work for the very agency that locked up Soviet dissidents, but he’s not baby-eating-evil like Stalin.

          1. What’s really sad is that Boris Yeltsin is probably the best leader Russia has had since Alexander II.

    2. Foreign Affairs did a piece like this a few years ago. If memory serves the younger demographic liked the fact Stalin was strong enough to fight off the Nazi’s and not bow to foreign powers. I think its easy to forget that the Russians have a long history of peoples invading back and forth across their country, and tend to have some paranoia regarding others intentions. I also visited the Stalin Museum in Georgia and the little old lady that was the tour guide had nothing but glowing praise about Stalin.

      Nationalism is an easy movement to lash onto because it’s simple. Not justifying anything just offering perspective.

      1. It is entirely accurate to note that Stalin was murderous and evil, while also noting that his leading a largely backwards and agrarian society to victory over the Germans was quite an accomplishment.

        And it’s not like the Russians have a stable of other candidates for ‘greatness.’

        The take home lesson is that Russians have no significant problem with being ruled by despots. They only have problems with weak or ineffective ones.

        1. I think the thing I like the most about the Russians is their grasp of real politik.

    3. Neighbor of mine whose family came over from Russia when he was nine, is always spouting nonsense about how tough a Russia is, including all kinds of tripe about Putin. He honestly believes that Russia has an economy and a military roughly on par with the US. I try to set him straight, but it never takes.

      1. Ask him who built the Soviet factories. He’ll shut up soon enough.

  8. Depending on how you count it, Stalin might have been responsible for as many as 15 million deaths

    while i think its a decent round-figure, its not quite the “upper limit of plausibility” that ‘as many as’ implies.

    Robert Conquest’s bean-counting is closer to 20. Many estimates of the Gulags alone is 10-12m. When you start adding in the forced starvation, the numbers scale pretty quickly.

    And then if you want to be particularly generous, you can add-in great swaths of those killed in wartime purges.

    I think 15 is very defensible, but by no means “as many as” possibly plausible.

  9. Something something not real Communism something something never been tried

    1. If only we let Stalin run Seattle things would be different this time

      1. It would be considerably more right-leaning if Stalin took over here.

    2. If you want to induce vomiting, try watching Oliver Stone’s “Untild History of the United States”. You would think he was writing a love letter to Stalin. All the killing was either western propaganda, or our fault.

  10. Also =

    i think Reason is really missing an opportunity here to do some coverage of one of the more entertaining subcultures in the intertubes = Stalinist Twitter

    i think most people only see it through the eyes of the Tankie-Takes Twitter account, who posts excerpts of their insanity for the amusement of the general public. But i think they probably deserve a longer and deeper analysis. Hell, interview some of them.

    they might take issue with being specifically called “stalinists” (commies are always absurdly touchy about distinguishing themselves as Maoists vs. ML “marxist leninists” vs.[insert whatever idiotic intellectualized offshoot you want) as a group, but i think they all pretty much agree that the mass-deaths of the collectivization/great leap forward/ etc were all pretty much “not only ‘worth it’, but should be done again ASAP”, more or less.

    1. I can’t deal with this Tankie-Takes twitter. I read maybe 50 and I think I am dying now.

    2. ” i think they all pretty much agree that the mass-deaths of the collectivization/great leap forward/ etc were all pretty much “not only ‘worth it’, but should be done again ASAP”, more or less.”

      Not the Vietnamese. Communism to them meant land reform, becoming the owner of your plot of land. It was a very popular move. The only mass murder was being inflicted by US military. Perhaps 2 million or more killed.

  11. I don’t see why anyone is surprised — just look at how Americans idolize Lincoln!

  12. …which just helps to illustrate how F^@ up Russia is. Like the middle east, they have a lot of problems, but the biggest one by far is denial.

    1. “to illustrate how F^@ up Russia is.”

      They have a lousy 13% flat tax, the slavers, instead of our much more Libertarian progressive taxes. And don’t get me started on food trucks….

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